The opponents of the mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero aren’t giving up yet.
After the last legal hurdle was cleared on Aug. 3, the project to construct a mosque and Muslim community center in the vicinity of the World Trade Center site was given the green light. With no remaining legal routes available to prevent the center’s construction, the vociferous opposition has now kicked off a hearts and minds campaign to try and sway the city population.
A group called the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), run by right-wing blogger Pamela Geller who has encouraged Muslims to leave their own faith, organized the campaign. The activist, who also runs the Stop Islamization of America campaign, shelled out $9,500 to finance the banner ads. The ads themselves will feature a building emblazoned with an Islamic crescent on the right and the South Tower of the World Trade Center moments before United Flight 175 struck on September 11 on the left. In the middle, in black lettering with red outline, reads the following question: “Why There?” (The advertisement identifies the Islamic Center as the “WTC Mega Mosque.” In addition to housing a mosque, the center will also feature a gym, bookstores and art spaces, among other offerings.)
The placement of the ads on premiere advertising space in one of New York’s most hallowed public spaces – the city bus system – did not come about smoothly. New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) had asked through its advertising outfit, CBS Outdoor, for the images of the plane and smoke be removed. Such a request was in line with prior pleas from 9/11 family members who have asked the media to refrain from reshowing the impact. After acceding to a first round of removal requests, Geller wound up suing the MTA this past week on free speech grounds.
In the face of a lawsuit, the MTA announced on August 9 that it was giving the okay to the ads as they originally were designed – airplane and smoke included. They will appear in city buses within 10 days.
Upon hearing of the MTA’s approval, David Yerushalmi, who represented AFDI, said the decision was a victory for the “defense of the First Amendment.”